Hayley Williams’ wistful vocals on B.o.B.’s “Airplanes” may have blindsided most, but the 21-year-old rocker’s foray into hip-hop isn’t much of a stretch. The Meridian, Mississippi, native and former self-described asocial “loser” was reared on Motown soul and initially culled her look from artists like Left Eye and Aaliyah. “Everyone I listened to had a distinct look. A really tight shirt, really baggy pants—that’s what I loved,” she recalls. “I went from listening to funk to writing rock music.”
Williams channeled her teenage angst into songwriting and as the frontwoman for emo pop/rock band Paramore used it to inspire three LPs, including the platinum-selling Riot! (2007) and gold-selling Brand New Eyes (2009).
While the fiery vocalist won’t be reciting rap tunes on Paramore’s summer tour, she’s clear about hip-hop’s influence. “Hip-hop is almost as important as rock music when I think about what got us here,” says Williams. “When I listen to our music, I want it to have movement. I don’t want it to sound like a generic rock song.” —Paul Cantor